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MINUTES OF THE FIRST VIRTUAL MEETING OF THE COMSTECH SCIENTIFIC ADVISORY COUNCIL (COMSTECH-SAC) HELD ON 27 JANUARY 2021

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  1. In his introductory remarks, Dr Choudhary, Coordinator General COMSTECH, discussed the role of the OIC Standing Ministerial Committee on Scientific and Technological Cooperation (COMSTECH), which was founded in 1981. He mentioned the OIC and international organisations that COMSTECH collaborates with, and the OIC networks it had established. He highlighted some COMSTECH programmes, mentioned the strategic priorities that face the organisation, and cited the resolutions that emanated from the first OIC Summit – held in Kazakhstan in 2017 – that essentially called on COMSTECH to strengthen cooperation between OIC Countries in the domain of STI capacity building and policy formulation, as well as in developing STI monitoring mechanisms. Dr Choudhary also requested members to review the existing programmes of COMSTECH, and advise its leadership on how COMSTECH can emerge as a more effective organization for S&T based development.
  2. Dr Zou’bi introduced a brief synopsis on past and present science advisory mechanisms in OIC countries, identified institutional and individual advisors from the OIC and highlighted the importance that countries such as the US attach to the position of science advisor. He identified policy gaps/problems in the STI ecosystems in OIC countries that can be studied/discussed by COMSTECH-SAC including recognising the best science advisory mechanisms for the said countries, and addressing the apparent lack of STI policies and STI observatories in such countries. He mentioned the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic as a development game changer that has affected all countries. He went on to propose a number of deliverables that COMSTECH-SAC can accomplish including generating templates of STI policy instruments for OIC countries as well as an all-encompassing report on the status of STI in OIC countries to be presented to the OIC hierarchy.
  3. Dr Atta-ur-Rahman,FRS who had previously served as Coordinator General, COMSTECH, (Ex-Advisor and Federal Minster of Science & Technology and Information Technology, as well as Chairman, Higher Education Commission of Pakistan) identified four specific areas that can be the subject of analysis and action by COMSTECH and COMSTECH-SAC respectively, including; (1) strengthening COMSTECH networks and founding new ones to cover topics such as AI, Nanomedicine, Virology, Biofuels and Energy Storage Systems, Advanced Genomics etc. (2) revamping the Science, Technology and Innovation Organisation (STIO); (3) carrying out foresight studies; and (4) developing models university-industry interactions. Dr Rahman concluded by highlighting Pakistan’s effective national response the COVID-19 pandemic.
  4. Dr Sindi presented an overview of the activities undertaken by the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) in the domain of STI, essentially to nurture economic growth and help member-countries achieve the SDGs; activities which included establishing an S&T Department within the Bank, the launch of the US$500 million Transform Fund and the Engage Platform, primarily to empower the S&T and innovation ecosystems in OIC countries. Dr Sindi went on to mention the establishment on an IP unit to support innovation in member countries, and highlighted efforts to integrate STI efforts with those of national institutional and individual stakeholders, and referred to collecting and disseminating good practices in the domain. Dr Sindi also highlighted IDB’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic which was based on open-science and open innovation, and concluded by proposing a number of roles for COMSTECH-SAC that were in line with the strategy of the IDB.
  5. Dr Zakri, who had previously served as Science Advisor to the Prime Minister of Malaysia, commended the work of the Islamic Development Bank in the domain of STI and highlighted the activities of IDB’s Transform Fund. He also highlighted the role of the International Network of Government Science Advisors (INGSA) in the Science-Policy nexus adding that a (national) science advisory mechanism was the last piece of the giant jigsaw making up the national/international STI ecosystems.
  6. Dr Ousmane Kane, in his intervention, highlighted the issue of the COVID-19 vaccines that have been developed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, adding that there were no clear strategies in OIC countries to manage the vaccination processes. Under the leadership of COMSTECH, an effort would need to be initiated if the vaccination processes are to be successful in particular to advise on the choice of the vaccine, he added.
  7. Dr Djeflat suggested that although many countries boasted a variety of STI institutions, the effectiveness of such institutions was lacking. He suggested that national STI roadmaps have to be reviewed to render the STI enterprise more productive. He expressed his support of the OIC networks that COMSTECH had established and suggested that countries in the Maghreb may at some point host such networks.
  8. Dr Al-Naimi suggested that OIC countries need to prioritize their objectives and focus on specific issues in the domain of STI. He highlighted the important role of the Qatar National Research Fund (QNRF) as a possible sponsor of joint research programmes between OIC researchers and their counterparts from Qatar-based research centres and institutions.
  9. In his intervention, Dr Mouïn Hamzé highlighted the fact that there was a wealth of STI policies and strategies in OIC countries however, there were many problems that hindered the adoption and application of such policies including but not only the dearth of financial resources, but also the limited trust between decision-makers and the scientific community at the national level. This was highlighted at the world level with onset of the COVID-019 pandemic, he added. There was a need for our countries to be more proactive and that ethics should be at the centre of the STI network.
  10. Dr El-Kharraz highlighted that duplication of efforts in the domain of STI should be avoided, and that an attempt should be made to map the STI landscape and STI policies in OIC countries. He added that the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the need to localise technology, and support SMEs to achieve such a goal. He also highlighted a number of news areas that can be looked at including Big Data, Artificial Intelligence, Green Hydrogen, food and energy security, as well as climate change. He suggested that COMSTECH-SAC should bring in added value and play the role of an observatory of the STI activities ongoing in the region for benchmarking and programme implementing purposes.
  11. The representative of TUBITAK recalled the various STI-related decisions of the OIC Summit of 2016, and the efforts of COMSTECH to establish to an R&D Fund for OIC countries.
  12. Meeting ended with the vote of thanks by the Coordinator General COMSTECH, and information about the next meeting to be held in Islamabad (in person) in April/ May 2021.
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